5 In the News

The following stories captured my interest this week. From ancient earthquakes and Viking DNA to modern crimes and architecture, they tell us much about out past.

DNA Proves Viking Women Were Powerful Warriors
“An elaborate Viking Age grave in Sweden holds the remains of a decorated female warrior from the 10th century, providing the first archaeological evidence that women held high-status positions in Viking culture.”

What Crime Most Changed the Course of History
The Atlantic asked a number of writers, directors, producers, crime specialists, and average readers to answer this question. Some of the responses may surprise you.

Nashville’s Fort Negley  Nominated as Globally Recognized Site for Slavery
“Fort Negley, a Civil War-era fort in Nashville that is getting renewed attention amid the debate over a proposed development nearby called Cloud Hill, is now nominated to join a worldwide registry of historically significant sites for slavery.”

The Deadliest Earthquake Ever Recorded
“Humans have been recording earthquakes for nearly 4,000 years. From the ones we know about, the deadliest by far happened in China in 1556 A.D. On January 23 of that year, a powerful quake rocked the province of Shaanxi as well as the neighboring province of Shanxi, killing an estimated 830,000 people.”

Five Architects on the One Building They Wish Had Been Preserved
Another survey, this one from the Smithsonian. The publisher asked five prominent architects to name the one building that has been destroyed that they wished had not been. Interesting answers, including one who changed the rules and did not name a building but something else instead.

Land Ownership in Canada

Our French-Canadian ancestors had a far different system of land ownership than we, their Franco-American descendants, are used to. The seigneurial system, born out of feudal France, requires we think of researching their property records in different ways.

In the earliest days of the settlement, the crown granted large swaths of land to the Company of New France (also known as the Company of One Hundred Associates), various branches of the church, and to a limited number of individuals. These grants were called seigneuries. Individuals who received the grants were called seigneurs. The church and the company acted as the seigneur for their grants.

The seigneurs would then give their own grants to individuals, who would pay a cens (a small annual cash payment) and rent, much larger and usually a combination of cash, crops, and farm animals. These were the habitants who cleared the land and created farms. They were usually referred to in official documents as censitaires.

Waterways were the primary method of travel in New France, thus everyone wanted easy access to them. Seigneuries usually had a certain amount of frontage on the river, with the land extending deep back from there. The seigneuries would then be further subdivided with each censitaire receiving a certain amount of frontage, with the rest of the land going back from there.

Censitaires were able to assign their property to others. They could buy or sell rights to property, or leave their property to their children through a will, division of estate, or other method. As censitaires distributed their land to their children, the property would be further subdivided. Eventually the land would become a series of tiny strips moving away from the water.

Once the seigneury was divided and no further frontage was available, the land would be subdivided into ranges (pronounced like rang in the phrase “rang the bell”). A second range of subdivisions would be created by the first. In some cases, a third or fourth (or more) range might eventually be created. These were seldom neat, straight lines. Natural occurrences (such as marsh/swamp land, ravines, and more) might impact the way the land was granted. The lower the range, the greater the likelihood that your ancestor might have been more economically successful.

The seigneurial system of land tenure continued even after the Conquest. It continued throughout the first half of the nineteenth century until the passage of the Feudal Abolition Act of 1854. It was not until well into the twentieth century, however, that the seigneuries were all finally totally gone.

Records of these rentals, as well as sales and purchases of individuals’ rights to property, are found in the notarial records. Remember that not all transactions were handled locally, and the notaire in the seigneurie may not by the one who handled all the legal contracts surrounding the property of your ancestors.

For more information on the history of land and property in Quebec, see:

Harris, Richard Colebrook. The Seigneurial System in Early Canada Madison, Wisc.: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.

Munro, William Bennett. Documents Relating to the Seigneurial Tenure in Canada, 1598–1854 New York: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1968. First published 1908 by the Champlain Society.

Five in the News

With this post I am reintroducing a popular feature from my days at Mocavo. A weekly roundup of interesting stories of interest to genealogists. This week’s stories include ancient explanations for eclipses and explorations of trigonometry, maritime mysteries of the Pearl Harbor survivor USS Indianapolis and Confederate submarine Hunley, and the historic significance of twentieth-century Black Beaches of Maryland.

How Maryland Black Beaches are Becoming Staples of American History
Between the 1920s and 1960s, there weren’t many beaches where African-Americans could freely enjoy themselves without encountering discrimination. So, Carr’s Beach and just a few other beaches in the D.C. area became a safe space. Legends such as James Brown and Jackie Wilson would perform at Carr’s.

How 5 Ancient Cultures Explained Solar Eclipses
Solar eclipses have been fascinating—and often terrifying—humans throughout the course of history . . . As millions prepare to witness the phenomenon, find out how some early cultures and religions tried to explain and understand a solar eclipse.

This 3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed the History of Maths
A Babylonian clay tablet dating back 3,700 years has been identified as the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, suggesting the Babylonians beat the ancient Greeks to the invention of trigonometry by over 1,000 years.

How the USS Indianapolis, WWII Navy Ship with a Dramatic History, was Finally Rediscovered
On July 30th, 1945, the Indianapolis was at sea, having just completed a top-secret mission delivering key components of the atomic bomb Little Boy to a naval base in the Northern Mariana Islands, when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Just 15 minutes later, the ship that survived the Pearl Harbor attack was underwater. . . Ultimately, only 316 survived the ordeal. For decades, the final resting place of the Indianapolis was lost to the ocean.

Solving the Mystery of What Killed a Civil War Submarine Crew
The dead submarine crew hadn’t moved from their stations for nearly 150 years when the vessel was raised from the ocean in 2000. Whatever killed them happened so suddenly that they never made a run for the escape hatch. What’s more, they had no obvious physical injuries.

The Money of New France

Part of researching our ancestors’ lives is looking at their economic situation. How much real estate did they own? What did it cost? What personal property did they have and what was its value? Part of determining this information is having an understanding of the currency of the period and what the value of that currency is.

In the colony of New France, the monetary system is a bit complicated. The system was based on the livre. Just as British currency was divided into pounds, shillings, and pence, the livre was subdivided into sols and deniers. The major difference between the two currencies was that there was no livre coin. There were twelve deniers in a sol, and twenty sols in a livre. When written out, it was often abbreviated. Instead of saying 10 livres, 5 sols, and 3 deniers, it would be written as 10ll.8s.9d.

These denominations were the same in France as they were in the French colonies, such as New France and Saint Domingue. But the value of the money was different. Until 1717, the monnaie du pays or argent du Canada was worth less than the monnaie de France or argent de France. The value was lessened and reduced by one quarter. It was not until 1717 that the monies were equalized in value.

During this time there was no paper currency, only coinage. And coins were not minted in New France. They were brought into the colony by the King’s ships. This would cause shortages if a ship was delayed, especially if the next ship could not come until the following Spring.

In the late 17th century, The intendant Demeulle used playing cards as a form of paper currency. He signed  cards, declaring them to worth varying amounts of money. This did not cause inflation, as it was not meant to increase the amount of money in circulation, only as a temporary way of paying the government’s bills. When the next ship arrived, the cards were turned in for coins. This system was used until 1714, but in 1729 French-Canadian merchants demanded a return to the system in order to keep the economy moving. Some of this card money is still in private hands, and very collectible. This card was expected to sell at auction for $8,000.

To find out more about French-Canadian currency, see “The French Colonies and the Exchange on Paris” in John J. McCusker Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600­–1775 (Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1978 (280–90) and “Economic Life” in Marcel Trudel Introduction to New France (Pawtucket, R.I.: Quintin Publications, 1997) 184–89.